ALBANY – Many of his colleagues are desperate for a pay raise, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is not receptive to suggestions coming from the Cuomo administration that lawmakers might need to make a trade if they want to get a salary hike.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has raised questions about whether lawmakers have adequately made their case before a commission examining the issue of whether to give the Legislature its first pay increase since 1999. The commission’s creation was part of a trade deal last year between lawmakers and Cuomo; the panel is due to make its recommendations public in mid-November – after the Legislature goes before voters in elections around the state.
Heastie shot back at ideas being floated by the Cuomo administration that a pay hike should now be linked to stronger state ethics laws. That idea came from Cuomo officials just days after a massive pay-to-play scandal hit the administration involving the Buffalo Billion and other projects.
Heastie, in a lengthy written statement, noted that the pay commission was created last year “in order to remove politics from the decision-making process” about pay raises. Base pay for legislators is $79,500, though many make stipends for committee or leadership posts. The pay commission route was a way for lawmakers to leave the politically tricky matter of a salary increase up to a commission -- composed of members appointed by the Legislature and Cuomo and the chief judge of the Court of Appeals -- instead of having to take a floor vote on a specific, new salary level.
Heastie said the commission’s charge was to look at economic factors for a pay increase, not how many legislators turned up in person to testify before the panel in favor of a salary hike – something Cuomo says has been lacking.
“Unfortunately, counter to the purpose of the commission, there are some who have tried to politicize this process by suggesting legislators testify or trade legislation for a pay increase,’’ Heastie said in a not-so-subtle jab at Cuomo, a fellow Democrat.
He noted state judges got a pay raise last year from a panel that considered economic factors. He also noted that the current pay commission is not just considering pay raises for legislators, but for statewide elected officials and state agency commissioners.
“Given the recent investigations, it is understandable that there have been calls for stronger ethics laws in our state, but the issue of a pay increase should stand on its own merit and not be traded for any legislation,’’ Heastie said.
The pay panel’s recommendations will go into place unless the Legislature rejects or amends them prior to the start of the 2017 legislative session.